Road Hole Shorts

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Archive for September, 2010

The hazards of sand bunkers

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 09/17/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

Cat box, traps, the beach, kitty litter, whatever you might call them, we all have a love/hate relationship with these pervasive golf hazards. To be accurate, the correct term is sand bunker or just bunker. They’re beautiful, dramatic, strategic and in the final analysis a pain in the you-know-where.

Despite the fact that the prescribed method of playing a greenside bunker shot is precisely to be imprecise — that is to hit the shot “fat”, 99.9% of all novice players struggle to extricate themselves in a single swing.

On the original golf links of Scotland, bunkers were sandy blow-outs. It has been asserted that these blow-outs were the result of over-grazing or repeated bedding by sheep left to roam the links commons. In environs such as the Scottish links lands, these sandy areas were unstable and often “migrated” with the prevailing breeze.

As time passed, the game and the playing surfaces became more organized and it became desirable to maintain a constant layout. As a result, it became desirable to attempt to control these sandy areas. At first, earthen berms or stacked sod walls were tried. If these proved ineffective, wooden bulkheads were installed. But whatever their beginning, they have developed into intricately designed features, requiring careful and sophisticated grading, soil preparation and at times manufactured sand meeting demanding specifications. What you find on the course today aren’t your Grandfather’s bunkers (or your grandmother’s either).

Bunkers are sand-filled depressions. Seems simple enough doesn’t it? And bunkers are hazards. There’s no penalty assigned as there is for hitting into a water hazard. Yet historically, bunkers presented a more difficult playing surface than turf. Today’s Pro’s will often tell you they prefer the predictable lie of a bunker. Nonetheless, as the game has matured, there have been changing attitudes about what constitutes a “fair” bunker. I know, it seems kind of oxymoronic, doesn’t it?Anyway, as far back as the late 1940’s the United States Golf Association (USGA) began advising course managers on the types of sand that would afford a fair test as well as provide a stable, manageable surface.

In 1974, the USGA released bunker guidelines that were based upon their experience, laboratory testing and hands-on efforts.While there are some interesting tidbits I could share on other elements of the design and construction of bunkers I’m going to focus on selecting the proper sand. Fortunately, sand is plentiful. Since the USGA has gone to all the trouble to come up with guidelines, you might have surmised that just any old sand won’t do. How a sand plays — that is, how the material reacts to a shot landing in it and how it performs when a shot is played from it — is perhaps the most critical issue. Particle size is particularly important. When particles are not “graded” — that is, when they are all of similar size — the ball is more likely to plug or produce a “fried egg” lie depending upon the incoming trajectory of the shot. Conversely, properly “graded” sand will have a particle size distribution that will produce a more desirable firmness that can yield a sensation of feel and finesse for skilled players. Properly “graded” bunker sand will also fall into the range specified for the greens construction as well. This will mean that sand blasted onto the green surface will quickly migrate into the green rootzone and won’t overly damage mowing equipment.

Another important factor to the material functioning well within its design is its purity. A sand that is “dirty” contains silt or clay. In sufficient amounts the silt and/or clay will reduce the permeability of the sand, causing it to drain slower, eventually irreparably damaging the bunker drainage system. A course that has a number of bunkers exhibiting this problem probably has “dirty” sand. On the other hand, sand that has excessively large particles or gravel may drain just fine, but is otherwise undesirable to players.  You might think that sand particles are largely round. Think again. True, much of the common desert sand of the world and sand in dunes are round. But the round shape also means that they are relatively unstable and they don’t react well in playability tests. So, an angular sand is most desirable for bunkers. They tend to shift less and also exhibit a sort of “interlocking” characteristic that helps to keep them in place even in windy conditions.There are sands that will come out of the ground suitable for bunkers, but they are rare and some processing — usually in the form of screening or washing is necessary. Because sand is plentiful it is fairly inexpensive as natural resources go. The real cost is in the trucking or shipping of the material. Costs upwards of fifty dollars per cubic yard and sometimes beyond are not unheard of.

With the average course needing more than 1,000 cubic yards just for bunkers you can see that the cost could be substantial.So the next time you curse the course for the inadequacies you perceive in their bunker sand, you might consider that purchasing the proper material, trucking it to the site, removing the old sand, installing new drainage and installing the new sand might well elevate your green fees by more than a few dollars.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:


Where were you nine years ago?

By Mary Armstrong – intended to be published in my Column the Las Cruces Sun-News, but declined by the Sports Department because it was not sports related.

 This column will have little to do with golf, but much to do with nearly every person that reads it.  Much like the assassination of President Kennedy and the attack on Pearl Harbor for you real old timers, 9-11 brings back vivid memories within the context of our own lives.  A conversation about that fateful day will inevitably involve what you were doing when it happened.  At the time, I was living in a sleepy little New Hampshire town at the far northwestern edge of commuting distance from Boston.  The home I had on the Piscataquag River served as my office as well.  On that morning, I had just left my office on my way to Vermont for a Golf Course Superintendent’s event.  I regularly listened to New Hampshire Public Radio Station NPR during those days (and I still do occasionally), but more to the point, shortly after the first plane hit at 8:46 am EDT, NPR announced it as some kind of an accident.  Within minutes and shortly before the second plane hit (9:03 am EDT) they corrected themselves and told us it was an attack with a hi-jacked plane. 

 I immediately thought that I should turn around and go back home.  At least one of the planes had originated in Boston.  One of my daughters worked at the TJX Corporate Headquarters (Marshalls TJMaxx) just outside of Boston and I was concerned what the extent of the attack might be.  Later, I found out that my daughter could have been on the plane bound for LA with others from her company, but someone she had recently trained went instead.  After a discussion with my employee and spouse, I continued, but much of it was without much news as the I-89 corridor was somewhat remote and cell phone coverage was spotty at best.  When I arrived at the event, everyone was gathered around a large screen TV hoping for even the slightest tidbit of information to make sense of what had transpired.  I had not seen the impacts of the planes and I remember the terror I felt as I saw one of them hit the tower in a fiery crash.  By that time the first tower had fallen and that footage along with other horrifying video were shown over and over.  How can such images not stay with you?  Our event proceeded although the schedule was somewhat altered.  Golf was a large part of the meeting that day, but as we gathered at every tee there was conversation about hardly anything but the attack.  It was interesting, because I don’t recall there being even a hint of partisan politics in the air.  I never felt uncomfortable with anything anyone had to say about what just happened.  I just remember a look of sadness and in some cases fear with the same tinged in conversation.  But there was something more about the atmosphere – was it just the fear and sadness – I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it occupied my thoughts from time to time that day.

 Following the event, I was to proceed south down I-91 to Ridgebury, Connecticut for a pre-proposal meeting for the Town’s Municipal Golf Course.  Instead of driving as far as I could to make my morning drive smaller, I stopped in Springfield, Vermont.  I didn’t want to get too close to New York until I knew that things had calmed down.  After getting all the information I could that night, I awakened early the next morning to drive the remaining few hours or so to Ridgebury. 

 My meeting was early – probably around 9 am, so my drive down I-91 and then I-84 would not have ordinarily presented much traffic anyway.  On that day, September 12th, it was one of those prototypical New England September mornings.  The sky was clear and dark blue and the air was clean and crisp as the cool overnight held against the morning sun.  There was some fog in Vermont and northern Massachusetts.  The traffic was even lighter than I could have imagined.  As I neared my exit on I-84 there were glimpses of a plume of smoke rising against the clear blue September sky.  I was early for my meeting and drove past the Ridgefield Golf Course entrance.  This is where my memory is fuzzy as I believe I was overwhelmed with the image some 50 miles to the southwest of a plume of smoke rising up to a temperature inversion where the smoke drifted horizontally, trailing off to the south on the northerly breeze.  Today, I can’t be certain that I saw that image from the ground somewhere in Ridgebury or if it was just some video on television on another day.  However, for me the image and my visit to Ridgebury are lastingly linked. 

 During my walk with the Golf Committee I had the same feeling that I had the previous day.  There was something different about the world.  Was it just my emotions?  As we toured the golf course, I became aware of the quiet sky.  Suddenly I realized – it was the fact there were no airplanes in the sky.  Everything had been grounded shortl y after the attack.  The sky WAS quiet.  It seemed appropriate.  It wasn’t in tribute to all those that had died, but for me it felt that way.

 As we near the tenth anniversary, the internet has much jibber jabber about the possibility of a national holiday.  But, in the United States, national holidays are little more than moneymaking opportunities.  If we could have a day in true commemoration of those events in New York, Washington D.C. and in an isolated field in Pennsylvania I would applaud it.  A day we could spend in peaceful respect with family or friends would be ideal.  A day when there was no commerce at all.  If I had my way, it would also include a day of a quiet sky.

Commentary: What’s up with the LPGA?

by Mary Armstrong, published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 9/3/10

This past weekend, I watched the closing holes of the Canadian Women’s Open as Michelle Wie took aim on her second LPGA win. I was reminded of a year or so ago when the LPGA was in dire straits because they were losing a significant number of tour stops. In September there will be only one LPGA Event — The P&G Northwest Arkansas Championship by Walmart. September is one of the best golfing months of the year in North America — interest by the viewing public is high. So what gives?

Michael Whan was hired as Commissioner last October to rescue the LPGA. By now, I had hoped he would have restored at least one of the “lost” tournaments or secured a new one on American soil. A quick scan of the news items on the LPGA website for the past year reveals just a couple of new events were announced. The Sybase Match Play Championship’s inaugural event was announced at the end of last year and was played May 20-23, 2010. The only thing is — that’s just a renaming and re-formatting of an existing event. Several other “spins” on renaming or extending commitments were announced as well, but there was really only one new event for 2010. The Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia event was announced in March 2009, prior to Whan’s hiring. The Tournament will be played in Malaysia during one of the LPGA’s Asian swings Oct. 22-24, 2010.

Interestingly, last January the LPGA announced that the 2010 season is “its 60th year as a leader in the world of professional sports. Founded in 1950, the LPGA was built by 13 pioneering women who envisioned a full professional tour for women golfers.”

I have to wonder when they will achieve that again. What do you suppose those “13 pioneering women” might think about the state of the tour? It’s certainly interesting — there’s lots of diversity and women have many opportunities to travel all over the world. Of course, the fact that you have to travel all over the world makes expenses very high and the purses remain insultingly low. The winner on the PGA Tour each week could nearly sponsor an LPGA event with their winning check. PGA Tour purses have been hovering in the $6-to-$7 million dollar range this year, while most of the LPGA events are under $2 million.If you read my column frequently, you probably aren’t surprised that I’m wondering why the LPGA isn’t being run by a woman. I know a woman was fired before hiring Whan, but there are capable executives and the firing kind no matter what the gender. Times are tough — we all know that — but these are times when the biggest business decisions are made as well. It’s a time when risks are taken. I started my own business in 1990 during the last big real estate bust. I had nothing to lose. The LPGA doesn’t either. If they don’t make some kind of change, do something creative, another 13 women may have to come along and blaze a new trail.By the way, Michelle won.Tiger WatchI had to laugh this weekend when the golf broadcasters brought out the video analysis of Tiger Woods’ swing.They wanted to talk about the new “change” he is making. Tiger’s “problem” isn’t in his swing, but that’s what he and his handlers want you to think. In 2009, according to his own website, Tiger Woods was No. 1 on the prize money list, nearly matching his career record earnings in 2007. According to the Website, in categories such as earnings per event, earnings per round and so on, Tiger scored on the order of three-to-four times the amount as his nearest competitors. In other words, while Tiger didn’t play that much — due to his knee injury — when he did play he dominated the field.Now, I ask you why would someone that performs that well want to change his swing? The answer my friends is that I don’t believe he is. “The swing thing” is merely a spin on Tiger’s critical five-inch problem (the one between his ears). I believe he is deeply troubled and embarrassed about what happened in his personal life last Thanksgiving. I don’t think he’s resolved it and I don’t think he’s willing to do what it takes to resolve it. Until he does, keep looking for new excuses for his sub-par performances.A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: